by Aaleah McConnell, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]
June 19, 2023
Listen up: A joyful Georgia chorus on Juneteenth 2023
June 19, once an afterthought for many, is getting more recognition across the country two years after gaining official status as a federal holiday.
And Georgia, a state with a rich Black history and culture, is the perfect place for many freedom-loving Americans to observe the importance of Juneteenth to Black communities around the state.
“This is a tremendous day where the slaves were given notice that, hey, the things that you’re doing, you don’t have to do that anymore. You can leave. I thought that was something that we really needed to pay homage to and work on,” said state Rep. Miriam Paris, a Macon Democrat who was a long-time proponent of making Juneteenth a state holiday in Georgia.
“Just the idea that now they are thinking about discontinuing diversity and inclusion conversations,” Paris said. “We’ve got to do what needs to be done. To make sure that we take forward motion to know our own history.”
Last year, Gov. Brian Kemp signed off on a bill sponsored by then Columbus Democrat Rep. Calvin Smyre that officially made Juneteenth a state holiday in Georgia.
To keep Black history alive, a multitude of Juneteenth celebrations kicked off on Saturday and each focused on a unique scope of the holiday. Several events took place in the metro Atlanta area, ranging from cookouts and parades to fashion shows.
Marching to a new beat
From the state Capitol to Centennial Park, Georgians of all stripes marched, danced and even double-Dutched their way through the city as part of Atlanta’s Juneteenth Parade and Music Festival.
The Juneteenth krewe included: the Atlanta Ol’ Skool Drummers, an all-male percussion group; Marching to Harmony Inc., a nonprofit group aiming to protect music and art programs in public schools; and Power Up by Atlanta Public Schools which offers summer learning programs for K-12 students. Rep. Mesha Mainor, an Atlanta Democrat, participated in the parade. Also on hand were a couple members of the heroic Tuskegee Airmen.
The crowd cheered on as the Seed and Feed marching band, a colorful and eclectic Batucada drum ensemble, and the 40+ Double Dutch Club passed through. But some groups were there to raise awareness including the New Afrikan Scout Organization, which is a youth program formed in the late 1970s that aims to instill pride and unity amongst children of African descent.
“We have Black history month and we celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday. Juneteenth is our Independence Day. Our nation has an Independence Day, for Black people that were slaves. So I’m a product of Juneteenth. This is a significant day and we should celebrate it,” Mainor said.
‘Community full of culture’
While the parade made its way through downtown, a Juneteenth celebration honoring Black hair and beauty took place at Pullman Yards. The Beaute Noir Fest is the brainchild of Janelle Stephens, CEO of the haircare brand Camille Rose Naturals, and it drew in a diverse crowd with its beauty panels, photo stations and stations for local Black entrepreneurs.
“Our community is full of culture, especially when it comes to our hair, our beauty and our style,” Stephens said. “We’re the trendsetters, our culture is at the forefront when it comes to creating styles of our own.”
“I just thought it was a perfect time for us to bring the tastemakers, influencers, people who are behind the scenes, other business owners that are really really making things happen, but they’re not necessarily always on the front line,” Stephens said.
Plug for voting
Over at East Point City Hall, hundreds camped out in lawn chairs to take part in the NAACP Juneteenth concert featuring acts like Keith Washington and Angela Winbush. With plenty of good food and music, the East Point community united to remember the day when freedom applied to all Americans.
“So until 2,000 troops showed up in Galveston, Texas and said, this war is over, Black people are not going to be enslaved anymore. And that didn’t happen until June 19. So that’s why we do Juneteenth.” said Richard Rose, president of the NAACP Atlanta Chapter.
Rose, who has picketed for equal rights since the age of 13, not only reminded concert-goers about the history of Juneteenth, but also about the importance of voting.
“We have to make sure that we vote. We have to participate in this democracy,” Rose said. “We have to remind people where we are, that is just not a fun time. It’s a commemoration, it’s a recognition, it’s a time of chance to say, this is who we are, we are here, we are part of this country.”
Historical perspective in Valdosta
This year marked the 31st annual Juneteenth festival in Valdosta, and similar to the NAACP, the Southside Library Boosters along with the New Georgia Project, set out to create bonding within their community.
“The theme for this year is unity. And it’s not even unity just with the people in communities. unity in different age groups and different generations,” said Louis Gordon, field manager for the New Georgia Project’s Valdosta branch.
The week-long festival included a classic car showcase, live performances and a tribute to the Divine 9, a council of historically Black fraternities and sororities. And organizations like the New Georgia Project were there to inform people about their voting rights.
“As far as education goes with the community, (New Georgia Project) will be out there, you know, so we’ll be educating people on voting rights and how to get registered, how to be heard in your community,” Gordon said.
And while the message to get out and vote was pitched, the Southside Library Boosters advocated for access to education and library resources, given that at one point in time, Black people in the South were denied access to a quality education.
“For decades, there was no library on the south side of town,” founding member of the Southside Library Boosters, Beverly Richardson-Blake said. “So in order for our children to get books, they had to go to the north side.”
“(But now) we did get there and now it is undergoing some renovations. But at one time, the southside was a thriving area. You know, there were stores, there were businesses. There was access to information and that has kind of dwindled away. So as the library reopens, one of the things we want to do is take a look back at what the south side of Valdosta used to look like.”
Soul food served up Dublin style
A growing organization out of Dublin, called Cultureshock of Dublin, held its fourth annual Taste of Juneteenth festival over the weekend. Not only was it a celebration of traditional soul food, but the festival also served as a platform to bring awareness to challenges in the Black community, including mental health care and dietary health.
“People always come together with food and music. So why not use that platform to just be able to connect better,” said Sheree Jackson, one of the founding members of Cultureshock.
For Jackson, starting the Juneteenth festival was one way to join hands with neighbors to have a positive impact in their city.
“It originally started with wanting to have resources, you know, for the community,” Jackson said. “We just wanted to bring that (to Dublin) and be an asset to our community, just to be exposed to different cultures and different ways of doing things. Because we do live in an area where a lot of people don’t have access or means to go outside of their city, so we just want to be an answer and a convenience. as well as incorporate fun, food and fellowship.”
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